Saturday 19 September 2020

Stills from We Are Without (2020)

We Are Without (2020) SJ.Ramir

We Are Without (2020) SJ.Ramir

We Are Without (2020) SJ.Ramir


Friday 11 September 2020

An Interview with Borja Castillejo Calvo for film blog Cinesinfin

All of your films are short films. You have a clear predilection for short films and I think that in Disquiet you can see that you perfectly condense the time and the texture of the image. Why this penchant for short films?

I think what draws me to this is firstly, an interest in distillation. You mentioned the condensing of time, and I think I’m also attracted to the condensing of concepts, narratives and process. Distilling all of these things requires a lot of rationalization at editing time, which can be interesting. You become a funnel. It also opens up possibilities with regards to how you use visual language if you have a short amount of time to convey an idea or philosophy. There are a number of filmic ‘devices’ that are distinct to my films, that have come about purely because of this distillation approach that I mentioned.

But in the end, it’s the film itself that decides whether it’s finished or not. It’s not that I have anything against producing ‘long form’ works – it’s just that each film gives you a sense that you’ve said all you need to say. Whether that’s after two minutes or ten. It also becomes a question of how much more information do I need to giveaway in my films before it begins to erode the purpose of the works existence? Ambiguity, to a certain degree, justifies the right of the work to exist.

This is a non-narrative film, but we can dig a little into its images and discover a kind of history. Not a story with a beginning and an end, but one that is based on sensations. The trees and the desert are elements that accompany the man who walks slowly in a gray landscape. Did any specific experience prompt you to make this short film?

So, I work very instinctually. I don’t produce storyboards for my films – I find that too restrictive. Other than my interest in certain themes, I’m very open to how a work can evolve during the process of creation. In fact, I actually try to suspend any expectations I have for a work at the time of filming. I’m not sure how other filmmakers work, but for me, the only thing I’m focused on at the time of shooting, is the collecting of images – strong images, whether they appear to tie in to the theme of the film or not. It’s important to me, that each frame I shoot, if frozen, is strong enough to exist on it’s own as a still image. This is part of my philosophy. I guess you could say that I approach my filmmaking as a stills photographer.

With regards to what prompted me to make the film Disquiet, there was no significant reason other than I’ve always been attracted to barren, desolate landscapes, and wanted to produce a film in this environment. But you mentioned that Disquiet is a film based on sensations, and I think you’re right. Curators have noted this in the past. And I think this comes from the emphasis on ‘image making’ during the creation process. But I do remember at the time of completing the film, I felt that it lacked cohesion. Without checking, I think Disquiet has more shots in it than any other film of mine. This is possibly why at the time I felt it was very fractured. Which of course, I disagree with now. I actually withheld the film for quite a while and was very reluctant to submit it to film festivals. Gaining perspective on your own work can be very difficult at times.

All your movies have a lot in common. Your style always stands out, with the dark and blurred shapes. The common threads between Disquiet, Departure, My Song Is Sung or In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath… is obvious. Could you tell us about the similarities between your works and what you think about them?

I have an interest in certain themes, and I execute these ideas with a similar methodology each time, so it’s inevitable that there would be similarities. Lets just say that if you’re in a dark room, instinctually, you would reach out with your hands to find something – a light switch, a wall…that’s all I feel I’m doing with these films. I think that’s the same for most artists – that with every work you produce, there’s a feeling that you are moving towards something. What? You don’t always know. But there’s some form of momentum. This momentum is very important. But it’s very likely that one day I’ll wake up and not want to make another film again. In which case, the question then becomes: ‘Will my films eventually disappear? Do they resonate enough with people for them to endure?’ This is not a question for me to answer.

What can you tell us about the house? It is not the first time that you have dealt with this image in your work.

In my earlier video works – including Disquiet, I presented images of ‘structures’ in silhouette. I didn’t want them to be viewed specifically as a ‘house’ or a ‘home’. They were in my films to represent something larger; humanity, nationhood, society, religion, collective beliefs… The figures in my films of course, were drawn to these structures – just as humans we’re drawn to other people, a collective way of thinking, or a community. We are social creatures. The desire to belong to something is very strong. But how do you reconcile this social instinct if you reject what is being offered by society or humanity? So these ‘structures’ were investigated, but ultimately rejected by the anonymous figures. The sense of belonging, or conversely, the feeling of being an ‘outsider’ – of not belonging, and what that means, was a central theme to these works. In my later films, these structures were presented intentionally as a ‘house’- as a place of ‘habitation’. But in essence, regardless of whether they’re presented as ‘structures’ or ‘houses’ in my films, they both emit a form of magnetism, in that the figures and/or viewer are drawn to them. This forward momentum – the endless journey or search for a sense of belonging, a sense of place, a sense of ‘self’, is a constant in most of my films. Although my works are often regarded as landscape films, and utilize landscapes quite extensively, most of them have more to do with an examination of identity rather than geographical place.

Sound is perhaps the most important element of the film. It’s disconnection and low frequency stand out a lot. How/why did you decide on this type of sound?

I grew up making music on a four-track recorder in my bedroom. Cassette four track, to be specific. A constant reality of this was audio hiss and distortion. Not to mention sound leakage on each track from other peoples footsteps on the floorboards above, the creak of a cupboard door, or when someone in the house had a shower. I also produced handmade zines on photocopiers so smudges and imperfections were an inevitable outcome. So I was quite immersed in what would now be called ‘low fi’ art except, we didn’t necessarily call it that back then. It’s just that these were the only avenues that were available or affordable at the time. But the way I see it, all of these so called ‘flaws’ – the audio hiss, the sound leakage, the smudges, were actually quite integral to the character of the work. I’m guessing this has shaped my preferences for music and art today – including the soundtracks I produce for my films. In fact, the soundtracks I produce almost mirror my process for shooting images, in that they’re intentionally degraded. Particularly in my earlier films; Man AloneDeparture and Our Voices Are Mute, audio distortion (intentional and unintentional) in the soundtracks perfectly mirror the visual distortion present in these films.

In terms of sourcing the sounds, I used to go out and record cars on the street, my friends smoking cigarettes, the neighbours dog barking. I dug a hole once, and dropped the microphone into it, and recorded the sound of it being buried. I’d stick a microphone under the sink if I was washing the dishes, or if I could hear the sound of a circular saw being used on a nearby construction site then I’d try to capture that too. The soundtrack was then built up in layers using these recordings, with effects added towards the end. Sometimes I bounced sounds off a digital recorder onto a cassette recorder and then back again – just to build up multiple layers of hiss and distortion. Even today, I still have a similar approach to the soundtrack production.

Next I’d like to talk about the texture of your images. The grainy shape of each shot makes the atmosphere dark and evocative. What do you think about when you reflect on this?

On a visual/conceptual level, I’m constructing, then examining an inner world or mental state that somehow traps us and defines us – it’s also a response to the deprivation of knowledge; deprivation of answers to questions we have about life, self-identity, existence and lastly, a response to self-delusion. Do we view anything in this world through a clear lens? I doubt it. I place a self-made filter over the lens of my camera, which then distorts its view. In essence, each of us do this to ourselves everyday – consciously or subconsciously. I think that the images in my films are very aligned to a human perspective on the world.

One last question. In Disquiet the montage seems to respond to a need of the work itself, like a breath or a heartbeat. How is this achieved in post-production? What is your post-production process to achieve this?

Essentially, I use what is perceived as a weakness in the DV format – it’s large pixels, as a strength. This isn’t created in post-production at all. It’s in-camera. It’s at the filming stage. The look comes from the lens filters that I make – either before hand or at the time of filming that deliberately degrade, distort and diffuse the image, which gives it the sensation of throbbing, or as you mentioned, the look of breathing or a heartbeat. I like the contradiction that even in the most still of scenes in my films, motion is present. There’s instability to the image you are viewing. A fragility. Each scene gives the impression that it could erode or break up at any moment. Using this method requires a high shooting ratio, as the results can be very random – which is to be expected because I’m working at a very molecular level of the digital video format.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Filmmaking Process and Philosophy - an interview for Pugnant Film Series

(Giorgos Efthimiou) Seeing the lonely otherworldly figures of your films sail slowly through your dichromatic landscapes, under the sounds of atmospheric ambient music, I feel as if your films always refer to something you’re nostalgic about. What’s the power of nostalgia in your films?

(SJ. Ramir) Well, I always find other people’s interpretations of my work interesting. But for me, there is no nostalgia in my films. There were originally, two predominant themes I set out to explore in my body of work. The first of which was the concept of ‘belonging’. What does that mean? What do you need to feel a sense of belonging? Is it shared beliefs and values? What about human connections; family, society  – are they an anchor – something that grounds you for the good, or a weight to be dragged? Personal experiences are often rooted deep into the soil of a geographical place. How much of this, plays a part in where you feel a sense of belonging?

So, in my early films I used the motif of a lone figure moving across remote, geographical landscapes in a quest, a journey, to find a destination, a place to belong. But the figures were seemingly unsuccessful in finding any fulfillment in that regard and they were certainly devoid of any geographical origin. But the further my filmmaking went on, to me, it was almost as if ‘origin’ and ‘destination’ were becoming irrelevant in these films, in my process. Except they weren’t – or weren’t supposed to be, but they became a peripheral, because for me the films purpose slowly evolved and became more about actual forward momentum between A and B. A = the origin, or a question asked; in my original case, what is this human state of ‘belonging’? B= the destination, or the answer to a question. So, this is where it became interesting for me. What starts out as a series of films about the concept of ‘belonging’, by sending these figures off on a journey to find a place where they belong, the films slowly diverted away into a completely different area. A more universal area. They became films about the actual concept of ‘questioning’! So, you ask a question. Any question. You search for an answer. These early films are about what happens in between.

The second predominant theme that I explored later in films such as My Song Is Sung and In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath…, was existence – specifically, it’s relationship to, and occupation of, ‘physical space’. Whereas in my earlier works, the wandering figures would come across looming structures that were to be questioned and considered from the outside (representing options – societal, religious, only to be rejected in the end and the journey continued), in my later films the viewer actually enters these structures and examines the vacant, unoccupied physical spaces.

(GE) Even just looking at the titles in your filmography, My Song Is Sung, No Place To Rest, Departure, Our Hands Are Empty, In This Valley, My Heart Is Buried Deep…, some or maybe even all of them seem to refer to something that’s been lost. A loss. After the films end, does this loss grow or diminish?

(SJR) Not a loss, but a deprivation. That’s what I was getting at when I wrote about my film Our Hands Are Empty, “To understand life, is to know that much of it is lived in the dark – there is very little daylight in our understanding or comprehension. To find truth, we need to reach out for it, but most often when we pull our hands back to examine what we have found, our hands are empty.” Using these figures in my films – these figures that are caught in an endless, exhausting treadmill of passage across heavily distorted geographical landscapes, is suggesting that there is no clear path in life for the questions we sometimes ask.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Stills from In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath...(2017)

In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath...(2017)

In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath...(2017)

In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath...(2017)

Wednesday 16 March 2016

My Song Is Sung - full length version

My Song Is Sung from SJ.Ramir on Vimeo.

SJ.Ramir - Artist CV

Selected screenings: 

In This Valley, My Heart Is Buried Deep… - Rencontres Internationales, Berlin.
Into Daylight – Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Scotland.

In This Valley, My Heart Is Buried Deep… - Rencontres Internationales, Paris.
Our Hands Are Empty - Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, Czech Republic.
No Place To Rest – Melbourne International Film Festival.
Remote – Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Scotland.

Into Daylight - Internationell KonstFilm Utstallning Art Film Biennale, Jonkoping Lans
Museum, Sweden.
No Place To Rest – Edinburgh International Film Festival.
No Place To Rest – New Zealand International Film Festival
No Place To Rest – Videomedeja, Novi Sad, Serbia

Disquiet – Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Departure and Our Voices Are Mute – Forum Des Images, Paris.
Disquiet - European Media Art Festival, Osnabruck, Germany.
Departure – Light Cone 30th Anniversary, Pompidou Centre, Paris.
Various films – SJ.Ramir retrospective, The Experiment, Maysles Cinema, New York.

Disquiet – Melbourne International Film Festival, Australia.
Disquiet – New Zealand International Film Festival, New Zealand.
Cold Clay, Emptiness… - Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, Czech Republic.
Disquiet - Ischia Film Festival, Ischia, Italy.
Disquiet – Video Art Festival Miden, Kalamata, Greece.

Cold Clay, Emptiness... – 67th Venice International Film Festival, Italy.
Into Daylight – International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Into Daylight – Cork Film Festival, Ireland.
Into Daylight – EX-IS video art festival, Seoul, South Korea.
Our Voices Are Mute – Images Forum Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Into Daylight – Oslo Screen Festival, Oslo, Norway.

Our Voices Are Mute and Departure - International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Our Voices Are Mute – Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Germany.
Into Daylight – Edinburgh International Film Festival
Our Voices Are Mute – Videomedeja, Novi Sad, Serbia.
Our Voices Are Mute – Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, Czech Republic.
Our Voices Are Mute and Man Alone – Die Nacht #87, broadcast on Arte TV,

Departure and Our Voices Are Mute – Athens Video Art Festival, Greece.
Our Voices Are Mute – Video Art Festival Miden, Kalamata, Greece.
Departure - 700.IS Festival, Egilsstadir, Iceland.
Departure – European Media Art Festival 2008, Osnabruck, Germany.
Our Voices Are Mute, Taupiri – Electrofringe Festival, Newcastle, Australia.

Departure – d/Lux/MediaArts, d/Art07/screen; Chauvel cinema, Sydney and Revelations Film
Festival, Australia.
Departure – Videomedeja, Museum of Vojvodina, Novi Sad, Serbia.
Departure – Video Art Festival Miden, Kalamata, Greece.
Man Alone – Electrofringe Festival, Electroprojections, Newcastle, Australia.

Selected Exhibitions/Shows:

Disquiet - Internationell KonstFilm Utstallning Art Film Biennale, Jonkoping Lans Museum,
(De)composition – Orexart Gallery, The Religious Experience, group show.
(De)composition – Auckland Art Fair, (Orexart Gallery), New Zealand

Disquiet – New Zealand Film Archives, Mediagallery, Wellington.

Cold Clay, Emptiness… - Yebisu International Festival for Art and Alternative Visions 2011,
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan.

Our Voices Are Mute – solo screening, Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne, Australia.
Our Voices Are Mute – solo screening, Square2 gallery, City Gallery Wellington, NZ.

Our Voices Are Mute and Departure - The Auckland Art Fair, New Zealand.
Journeys… New video art and prints – solo show, Orexart Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand.

Man Alone and Our Voices Are Mute – The Australian Centre of Photography, Sydney,
SJ.Ramir video works 2006-2008 - Internationell KonstFilm Utstallning Art Film Biennale,

Departure – d/Lux media arts exhibition, The Australian Centre of Photography, Sydney,


In This Valley of Respite, My Last Breath...5:07mins, colour, DV, 4:3

My Song Is Sung, 6:43mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Closer, 3:10 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Our Hands Are Empty, 9:50 mins, colour/black and white, DV, 4:3
In This Valley, My Heart Is Buried Deep…, 5:15 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

No Place To Rest, 6:15 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Remote, 31 mins, black and white, HD, 16:9

Disquiet, 8:15 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Cold Clay, Emptiness…, 7:36 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Into Daylight, 5 mins, colour, DV, 16:9 anamorphic
The Passage, 4:05 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Our Voices Are Mute, 4:42 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Taupiri, 2:48 mins, b&w, DV, 4:3
Departure, 3:28 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Gulf Transmission, 4:40 mins, colour, DV, 4:3
Man Alone, 3:50 mins, colour, DV, 4:3

Friday 8 January 2016

Stills from My Song Is Sung (2016)

My Song Is Sung (2016) SJ.Ramir

My Song Is Sung (2016) SJ.Ramir

My Song Is Sung (2016) SJ.Ramir

My Song Is Sung (2016) SJ.Ramir

My Song Is Sung (2016) SJ.Ramir

My Song Is Sung (2016) SJ.Ramir


Post existence: My Song Is Sung examines physical space no longer occupied.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Artist Statement

"The theme I explore in my video work is that of 'journeys' - both physical and metaphysical. These journeys are dramatised by the movement of anonymous, silhouetted figures through isolated landscapes - alluding to both the isolation of the individual, and isolation of place. Visual distortion in the footage is created by the enhancement of pixels, through the use of custom-made lens filters that are used 'in camera' to produce hazy, distorted images - suggestive of emotional states connected with isolation. 

The journeys made by these silhouetted figures can represent many things; a search for personal identity, nationhood or community. Often structures or houses appear in the distance, and are used as metaphors to represent mankind/society (and the offerings of society; from collective philosophy, values, morals, through to religion) and memories and needs. The figures approach, explore, and ultimately depart these structures. 

The final act of the figures leaving the structures and walking away represents an absolute rejection of what is being offered by mankind/society. It is crucial in my video work that for these wandering figures, no destination or resolution is ever reached, as this reaffirms that the very act and motivation of journeys is about an un-sated longing/quest/desire/need."

– SJ.Ramir